What the Nationals need is more Davey

Mike Wise
Columnist October 10, 2012

His 98-win team is one more miserable afternoon at the plate away from ruining its 2012 ending. And Davey Johnson looks absolutely bored by it all. Unmoved, unworried — hell, unimpressed by much at age 69 — he trudges to his clubhouse office after another get-a-few-key-hits, and-we’re-right-back-in-it presser.

“Shoot, I’ve had my back to worse walls than this,” the Nationals manager says through a drawl.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

“I thought we came a long way this year in 162 games,” he adds later, outside his office.  “I thought a lot of guys made a lot of good adjustments. I don’t use that as a crutch — inexperience. I don’t buy any of that.”

“We lost a couple ballgames in a five-game series. Shoot, we were two runs down, two strikes, two outs and we came back to win the game.” 

“When was that?” you ask, pretty much knowing the answer.

“’86 World Series,” Davey says.

Oh.

Besides runs and capable starting pitching, you know what the Nats need more of in this series if they’re going to put Gio Gonzalez on the mound for Game 5?

They need more Davey. They need more of the reassuring, we-got-this-game Midas touch that has made a clubhouse with but four playoff veterans believe in something much bigger than a first-round-and-out postseason.

 They need that guy’s confidence and ability to be unfazed by even the grandest moments. They need the hellion demeanor of a manager who green-lighted a teenager to go for broke. Insert a rookie pinch-hitter in the biggest spot imaginable. They need the attitude of a lifer who doesn’t tense up in October; no, the man lives for it.

“Today was the perfect example,” Mark DeRosa said of Johnson after the Cardinals took Game 3 by force. “He didn’t say anything. He knew exactly how to handle what happened. There was a calmness about him.”

Added Jayson Werth: “Davey is a rock. He may have never been stunned before. He’s the same guy no matter what.”

 On a day Washington found out what a game of extremities postseason baseball can be, Davey’s ability to stay between the lines was sorely needed.

At 1 p.m., this town was agog with noise and belief, enjoying a montage of history on the Jumbotron, nostalgic moments from reveling in playoff baseball for the first time in 64 years and its first Major League playoff game in almost 80 years.

By 4 p.m., the sky was falling. The Nats had marooned 11 runners, Edwin Jackson got rocked early and they were on their way to an unsightly loss against the defending world champions, who are coming together beautifully again at the right time.

It’s over, right? The Cardinals showed the Nationals what playoff intensity and production is all about. Lesson learned. See you in February.

 No. That’s conventional, downtrodden-fan wisdom, common among the people who left the game en masse at the end of the seventh inning.

 DaveyWorld?  “We got two games at home.”

 If his club can gut out a win with Ross Detwiler in Game 4 and find a modicum of confidence at the plate, life is good. His Cy Young Award candidate takes the mound for a closeout game on Friday, and everyone likes Gio in his matchup that night.

 When you have already managed a bunch of kids mixed with nice veterans to a world championship after they were on the brink, when you win four AL pennants and two World Series in eight years as an Oriole second baseman in the mid-’60s and early ’70s, you tend to lean toward the bright side of the postseason.

Which, as DeRosa said so eloquently as he cracked up an almost dead-silent clubhouse Wednesday, is basically, “Embrace it.”

“Coming through the Braves organization, and seeing us win all those division titles and not advance far in the times I was there through the postseason, I always felt that was the mentality that we took,” DeRosa said. “You know, play it like any other series during the regular season.

“I like putting the added pressure, the finality of it, the football mentality of it. So, that’ll be my little speech to the guys tomorrow: There is no tomorrow. Even though that’s stating the obvious, if you approach each pitch like that . . . you can’t do it for 162, but you can do it for a short series, you can do it when the money is on the line.”

DeRosa kept going, making sense amid all the denial from some of his teammates about not pressing as hitters:  “We need to draw on the fact that we’ve been the best baseball team for 162. And we just got to win one game tomorrow. Realize what’s at stake. I mean, it sounds so corny, when you’re in the backyard as a kid you’re not thinking about playing a May game in wherever. You’re thinking about these moments right here. Embrace it.

“I always say [to teammates]. ‘Take a moment. Step out and embrace the towels going around. Want the moment. Want the ball hit to you. Want the big at-bat.’ I think that’s the mentality, even if you fail, if you keep going up there and having that mentality, good things will happen more so than the other way if you’re scared — and I don’t see that being the case.”

Look, the Nationals won 10 more games than St. Louis because they have a better bullpen and a better bench than the Cardinals. They won more games than any other team because their starting rotation was scary good, and because their bats responded when they needed them most.

That team is still there, in hibernation, looking awestruck in the moment. If they would just take on their manager’s cocksure persona a little more the next two days, they will find much more satisfaction and longevity in this postseason than they can possibly imagine.

 For Mike Wise’s previous columns visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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